Food-sharing startups like Josephine may be delicious, but they may also be illegal

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It’s meant to bring us together, but sharing food might be tearing us apart, at least from a legal standpoint. Despite the prevalence of food-sharing and delivery startups that have begun popping up across the country, the degree to which these are actually sanctioned by state governments has yet to be fully determined. Just ask some of the participants of Josephine, an Oakland-based online marketplace that lets amateur chefs set up small takeout gigs.

It’s a delicious proposition — everyone likes homemade food, so why not allow those who make it best to offer it to their neighbors? Not only do hungry consumers get to eat a freshly prepared meal, but it also serves as a viable source of side income for the home cooks. If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because to some extent, it is.

As it turns out, there are quite a few strict guidelines in place in most states regarding food sales. Not just anyone can decide to run a restaurant out of their kitchen. While this makes sense, it also puts a serious damper on the entrepreneurial spirit behind startups like Josephine. As Fast Company notes, several states across the U.S. “require that food sold to the public be cooked in a commercial kitchen.” And your cooking range, no matter high quality, probably doesn’t qualify.

This legal hurdle is nothing new in the tech world, as it continues to “disrupt” a range of industries. Airbnb has come up against it, Uber has come up against it, and now, it’s food’s turn. What many participants in the space have decided, however, is to seek forgiveness rather than permission. As Julie Samuels, the executive director of advocacy group Tech:NYC told Fast Company, “If Uber had gone to the regulators first, the entrenched interests would have crushed them in seconds.

So no — maybe Josephine and other startups like it aren’t totally legal. But does that totally matter? Maybe not.

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